A second wave of raids and arrests has been made targeting online paedophiles. Last month 28 suspects were arrested and 40 raids carried out by Cheshire Police in a major operation into grooming of children.
Action was taken after a 400 per cent increase in the last four years in online viewing of indecent images of children in the county. This week the second phase of Operation Guardians was carried out.
The purpose was to target and deter predators, educate youngsters on signs of exploitation and staying safe online as well and to encourage people to report criminal behaviour.
READ MORE: Forty raids and 28 suspects arrested in huge child abuse crackdown
It saw the Constabulary’s online child abuse investigation team conduct an online undercover operation – working alongside the North West Regional Organized Crime Unit and National Crime Agency – and using the force’s new digital mobile forensics to instantly check offenders’ devices. In 2017 the force had 88 referrals regarding online child abuse. Last year it was 420. As a result its online child abuse investigation team has quadrupled in size from ten to 46 staff.
Other activity included officers proactively visiting vulnerable children who repeatedly go missing to better understand underlying issues and triggers in order to prevent further occurrences.
Five Registered Sex Offenders were arrested for outstanding offenses and are now in the hands of our specialist units and local courts. Units. Nine warrants were executed resulting in 10 arrests and investigations relating to online offences.
A total of 61 Registered Sex Offenders were visited and any internet-enabled devices were examined – apart from one individual, all devices checked were in order.
The operation was not just to take positive action against those who offend but also to support and offer guidance to those who at risk of exploitation and vulnerable. This has been seen:
Officers in plain clothes patrolled near schools in Cheshire – 40 separate patrols in total – ensuring pupils are able to attend school without being at risk of harm. Several areas of truancy, anti-social behavior and reported drug use across Cheshire were patrolled and will continue to be targeted by local officers (82 locations).
About 40 children were visited who have frequently been reported as ‘Missing from Home’ – officers have spent valuable time with them to understand the risk they are exposed and how we can work to improve their safeguarding and prevent further occurrences. Around 50 youth offenders were visited and engaged with ensuring that the level of support is adequate, proportionate and beneficial to prevent future offending.
At care homes across the county, police spoke to staff to increase their knowledge and to set expectations on what is required and expected if a child were to go missing in the future. The operation was over three days this week from Wednesday to today.
Detective Chief Superintendent Gareth Lee, Cheshire Constabulary’s Head of Public Protection and Criminal Justice, said: “Children are often the most vulnerable and innocent in our communities. No matter their age or background, they need our protection.
“It is the responsibility of every one of us – whether police or member of the public – to protect them from coming to harm, whether that’s from individuals who seek to exploit or cause serious harm, to looking closer at situations that display signs or behaviours. that question whether something isn’t quite right.
“As members of the public and concerned members of our communities, we need you to report it so that officers and agencies take appropriate action that can ultimately lead to them being safe.
“Operation Guardians is putting a spotlight on what our officers are doing every day. It is a huge but important and essential challenge and one we will continue to do until we know children and young people in Cheshire are protected and safeguarded.”
John Dwyer, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire said: “A key priority in my Police and Crime Plan is to protect vulnerable and at-risk people, and children who are targeted by online predators are among the most vulnerable in our society.
“That’s why I was keen to ensure that our Online Child Abuse Investigation Team received more funding and it has more than quadrupled in size as a result.
“This means we’re able to better protect vulnerable young people through Operation Guardians and my thanks to go to all the officers involved in this crucial work. We all have a part to play in keeping our children safe and it’s vital that people know the signs to look out for.”
Anyone who has information relating to child abuse and exploitation or has concerns can call Cheshire Constabulary on 101 or report online via our website.
Information can also be provided anonymously by contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.